A Room of One’s Own

Establishi­ng a delicious retreat away from the house where you can better explore your creativity.

- Words Sarah Heeringa. Photograph­y Vernon Rive

Create your personal retreat

Many New Zealand women are extraordin­arily creative – finding time to knit, felt, sew, write, upcycle, mosaic, photograph, paint, collect, frame, collage, slump glass and a raft of other artistic and productive endeavours. While some manage to channel their artistic passion into a paying career, others opt to squeeze art or craft projects into spare moments, allowing an outlet for what their day job doesn’t otherwise provide. Meanwhile, a growing number of women are discoverin­g the additional joys of having a dedicated personal space of their own – separate from the main house – as a place to work, meditate, think and create.

Making space

‘She sheds’, as they are sometimes known, are women’s answer to the ‘man cave.’ These personal spaces come in a huge variety of sizes and styles, from purpose-built sheds to converted outbuildin­gs, repurposed garages or cute retro caravans. Be it a craft shed, reading nook, summerhous­e, potting shed or artist’s studio, it’s about creating a space that best fits your needs – whether that be rustic and rough, whimsical and cosy, crammed with books, tools and inspiring objects or whitewashe­d and streamline­d for maximum tranquilit­y and concentrat­ion.

Where space allows, there are practical benefits to having your creative space separate to your home. Few houses have rooms free to be used as studios, whereas small sheds can be bought in kitset form, delivered ready-made on the back of a truck, or built on-site to your requiremen­ts for a fraction of the cost of adding on an extra room.

In most cases, building consents are not required for buildings that have a floor area of less than 10 square metres and that are located more than their height away from boundaries and other dwellings. Caravans can be even simpler to accommodat­e – they mostly require an area of flat land where they can be parked out of the way.

There are other subtle benefits to having a dedicated artistic or craft area. We know our physical surroundin­gs impact on our ability to adopt a creative mindset. For instance, when getting into writing mode I might go through a process such as making coffee or a pot of tea, settling into a favourite seat and perhaps putting on some ambient music. Likewise, hands-on projects also require you to enter both a physical and mental space to allow the creative juices to flow.

Having worked as a journalist, magazine editor, author and stylist I feel fortunate to have grappled with creative challenges every day as part of my job. But working in a creative sector hasn’t stopped me from wanting to pursue other artistic and practical pursuits at home – including a number of craft and upcycling projects that ultimately resulted in my book Reclaim That (New Holland 2015).

As anyone juggling multiple roles knows, it’s not just about finding the time to create; it’s also about finding space to pursue various projects. While working on the book, I found having a dedicated creative space helped with both – enabling me to make the most of limited time and for ideas to flow more freely.

Let there be mess

The creative process is often a messy one – there are materials to collect and store as well as tools, inspiratio­nal images and objects. It might involve sanding, painting, pots of ink, panes of glass or bits of paper or fabric. There are times when you need to spread your materials out, and times when you need to leave what you are working on and return to it later. The less physical interrupti­on, the better you are able to pick up where you left off.

Kiwi artist Lisa Baudry understand­s the benefits of the creative space. A freelance commercial graphic and digital designer, Baudry has worked in creative industries for more than 20 years and is currently developing unique textile and wall covering designs for the homewares market. In 2013 Baudry and her husband decided to build a garage with space for him to do his thing, as well as a dedicated studio for Baudry at the back of the garden.

“I’ve rented a lot of studios over the years and I have shared a number of studios, but it has never fully worked for me,” says Baudry. “For one thing, lighting was always a problem – either dingy, or too bright and fluorescen­t. I’ve also found shared spaces to be quite distractin­g. I need a lot of concentrat­ion, with time to think, and coming out into my studio is really good for that.”

A neat retreat

Inspired by the English director Derek Jarman’s famous wooden cottage, Baudry worked with a builder to get a design that fitted her requiremen­ts. The result is a cute building of 10 square metres. A deck and overhangin­g roof add extra space outside, while Baudry stained the timber interior with a light whitewash. Knowing sheds can be cold and that she would want to use her studio at night, they filled the walls with an eco wool insulation, enabling the shed to be kept cosy with low-wattage heating.

“It’s small but ample for my needs”, says Baudry. “The light is perfect. Originally I intended having a window at both ends of the studio, but didn’t include one at the computer end because I realised I wanted less direct natural light on my screen. But I really enjoy looking out of the existing window onto the garden.

“Now my daughter is at school I’m out here all the time,” she says. “It’s awesome having a dedicated space with my tools set up around me just how I want and even high speed internet. It’s what I’ve always dreamed of.”

An appealing aspect of huts is their sense of retreat. Being creative can mean experiment­ing and giving yourself permission to make mistakes. Just as you need uninterrup­ted quiet to write, exploring new techniques or designs is best done away from the skepticism of others or even the curious onlooker. Being physically separate from the house can be an important element of this. Depending on space, sheds might be situated just a few steps away from the back door or down a garden path.

Kōwhai, nikau palms and other native trees and shrubs surround a stone path that leads to Baudry’s creative cottage. “I really like walking out to the studio,” she says. “After it was first built I was practicall­y skipping down the path, I was so happy to have this space.”

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